Are Genres Past their Prime?

This is something I’ve been pondering a lot lately.  Actually for most of my life based on my own reading habits, which tend to defy easy classification (China Mieville, Joe R. Lansdale, Chuck Palahniuk, etc…).  Mieville is a particularly good example, in that he pretty much represents the New Weird movement.  The New Weird is one of three fairly recent movements within the f&sf community that seek to combine the tropes of multiple genres for various effects (the others being Slipstream and Interstitial).   Mieville’s stories (particularly his Bas Lag novels) have an incredible willingness to incorporate any and all literary devices as long as they can effectively tell the story.

This sort of genre merging isn’t anything terribly new, Star Trek was pitched as being about “a wagon train to the stars”, but it is gaining a new sort of prominence with every new vampire/romance series to hit the shelves.  With that in mind, I’m really wondering if it’s still useful to break out genre books into special collections.  At my library we catalog s.f., mystery, romance, and westerns separately, and any time we receive something that crosses a boundary we either place it wherever the previous book by that author went, or just give up and toss it in general fiction.

Obviously I hate this approach, but I’ve been unable to come up with something that will both appease our patrons who seek out those collections and my own sense of accuracy.  So if anyone out there on the interwebs has any suggestions please let me know, because frankly I’m at a bit of a loss.

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8 Comments on “Are Genres Past their Prime?”

  1. Chase Says:

    As for where to place them on the shelves, that’s a grab bag, unless you include a cross genre fiction section. However, updating your search system to one that uses tags might help.

  2. geekylibrarian Says:

    We are actually in the process of adding LibraryThing for Libraries to our catalog via our consortia, which will add those much needed tags (I’m really impatient for this to be implemented). However, that still will not be of use to our patrons who still like to browse the collection.

  3. Chase Says:

    Are you familiar with end caps? They are displays at the ends of isles, where you could display new books, staff favorites, or cross genre books. End caps work really well in book stores.

  4. geekylibrarian Says:

    Sadly our current fixtures do not allow for endcaps, that and not having the space to shelve anything faceout have been sore points with our head of circulation for quite some time.

  5. thedonofpages Says:

    You have that itch to take action, but don’t be hasty. No, Star Trek does not belong with the Westerns, but if pitching it that way can sell it… hey, just trying to make a buck. Westerns like “Wagon Train” were really moneymakers back then. Note that Star Trek isn’t pitched that way today. Publishers will happily create any mixed category combo genre that will sell their product. Ignore them and observe the public. Keep the traditional genre, and don’t think of adding a new one until that new genre has a substantial following among your public. When it does, then consider if the new genre will have enough longevity and significant enough shelf space to be worth it. Remember to think top down searching, and you can only split the top a little before confusion sets in. Yes, catalogers want to put each book in the perfect classification. Some writers will purposefully create books to defy classification just to gather attention, hopefully resulting in sales. Just drop such books into the broad “Fiction” classification with no regrets. Unless the need for a new genre is overwhelming, I say confine your efforts to creative tagging.

  6. Megan Says:

    What about shelving everything in the fiction section and putting spine labels with icons on those genres – that way you can add more than one if the book crosses genre (e.g. a s.f. icon and a romance icon for those vampire romances).

  7. geekylibrarian Says:

    thedonofpages: I agree with you completely regarding patrons being the final arbiter of our cataloging procedures, and ultimately that is what dictates our policies. I also agree that an awful lot of the problematic books in this instance our those written at a publisher’s behest or by a writer trying to grab some attention (again the Vampire Romances spring to mind, although I don’t mean to solely pick on them). I think what bothers me more are those books in which the author chose such a direction for more magnanimous reasons. China Mieville and the New Weird is a good example again, in that the goal of that movement is to bring back the sorts of stories that the original Weird Tales magazine was known for (H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, etc…) , which regularly combined elements of various genres (although primarily horror, fantasy, and s.f.). In cases like that I feel that any of the genre choices are equally valid.

  8. geekylibrarian Says:

    Megan: I should have been clearer in my original post, that actually is pretty much we do at my library. However, we do catalog them differently so that patrons may run call number searches for each of our singled out genres. Furthermore we used to use multiple stickers, but stopped that practice a little before I was hired. The feeling was that the books began to look too cluttered, and that too much vital information was being covered up (as it is we use a spine label, a new sticker, potentially a genre sticker, a barcode, and a label with our logo, and with audiobooks a do not place in book drop sticker and a label with the number of cd’s/tapes).

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